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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 12 : Death on the Moor | Summary



Visibly upset when he realizes that the mysterious man is none other than Sherlock Holmes, Watson demands an explanation. It seems that Holmes asked Watson to travel with Sir Henry as a ruse so Holmes could conduct his own investigation. He explains that Laura Lyons and Stapleton are lovers, and that the Stapletons are not brother and sister but husband and wife. When Watson is skeptical, Holmes explains that once he knew from Watson's report that Stapleton once was a schoolmaster he researched the records of the education system, where he found a man who fit Stapleton's description. That man, Holmes reports, had a wife.

Holmes confirms the suspicion that Beryl Stapleton wrote the warning, which likely means that the Stapletons were the ones following Sir Henry in London. In fact Holmes is sure that Stapleton is the murderer, for murder is what they have been dealing with all along. Stapleton used Laura Lyons to lure Sir Charles to the gate by the moor, where, somehow, he scared him so that he ran, which induced a heart attack. Holmes declares that all he needs are two more days to prove his assumptions and provide a motive.

A scream interrupts their conversation. They run out into the darkness and moments later find a dead body at the bottom of a cliff. At first they think it is Sir Henry, but as they turn him over they realize that it is Selden, who was wearing the tweed suit Barrymore had given him. It seems that he had been running from something, fell off the cliff, and broke his neck.

Stapleton shows up unexpectedly, explaining that he was worried when Sir Henry didn't show up to the dinner appointment at Merripit House and had come out to look for him.

Before they separate to go to their respective homes, Holmes tells Stapleton that he is leaving for London the next day.


The novel's theme of mistaken identity comes to full fruition. The seemingly dangerous and mysterious stranger is really Sherlock Holmes; brother and sister Stapleton are really husband and wife; and in his moment of death Selden is mistaken for Sir Henry. While the reason for and meanings of all these disguises seems elusive to Watson, Holmes's sudden reappearance suggests that the answer is near.

Although glad to see the detective at first, Watson's frustration, embarrassment, and anger at Holmes for misleading him are palpable. Seemingly the master of his own story thus far, it turns out that Watson was merely on the sidelines, never in a position to collect and analyze the clues that solve the case. Watson must realize that without the details Holmes has gathered, his attempt to solve the puzzle was always futile. The competition Watson had imagined he might win was never even close; he had no chance to outwit the master.

Watson is upset that the hard work that went into his reports seems to have been utterly useless. Yet Holmes admits that he relied very much on Watson's footwork, and thereby inadvertently acknowledges their symbiotic relationship. The man of reason needs the man of action as much as the man of action is lost without the man of reason. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are a team.

By chapter's end the whodunit has turned into a thriller. The question that guides the novel no longer asks who might be responsible for the mysterious events but how the perpetrator might be brought to justice. The suspense shifts from looking to explain events that happened before the story began to anticipating events that are happening in the story's present and future.

As always Holmes seems to have a plan, and yet as always he does not disclose it to anyone, not even to the trusted Watson. Watson's narrative thus far allowed the reader to participate in the investigation. Holmes, however, withholds information, relegating Watson, and thus the reader, to the sidelines.

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